So, partially as a response to the planning I personally am doing for Right Behind You, and partially because I needed something to write an advanced composition essay about, I created this little exposition on the benefits and downfalls of outlining. My conclusion? Well, you’ll have to read on and find out I guess. 🙂
Many people detest outlining their writing. This condition of loathing prevails because of the labor that arises from placing plans on paper. One might not even mind the physical exertion of forethought so much as the intellectual effort. Few people enjoy exerting themselves mentally, and most find writing outlines a chore. Sadly, those individuals have not missed the mark. Outlining really can nip the process of creativity in the bud. So, the question arises, should one plan his or her writing endeavor ahead of time? While the answer might seem like a simple yes or no, in reality, whether an author should outline depends completely on the writer.
In order to answer that question, one must thoroughly examine the values of outlining. With a properly sketched out framework for a piece of writing, doubt as to what should come next never appears. Planning sets in stone the solid foundation for the work it supports, and provides an unfaltering shelter to retreat to in case the frightening storm of uncertainty steps in. Outlines serve as guides so that one never has to question whether or not the thought he or she will expound on leads to a fruitful end. They blaze the way through the dark fog of rabbit trails and dead ends. Writers can use them as maps showing the beginnings and ends of their pieces.
Now the big ugly beast rears its head; how to set about the process of planning each minute detail? Therein already lies a mistake. Of what assistance does a map offer when it focuses in on an area already visible to the naked eye? Outlines cannot, and should not, record down the little tiny details. In reality, a well written outline provides food for thought, the little sparks of inspiration and fresh ideas that keep a writer moving. To achieve another goal of preparatory planning, one needs to use it as a medium for sorting out the cacophony of ideas that appear after brainstorming. Treated as a number line, an outline gives chronological order and cardinal sense to a misshapen pile of points.
Yet, though these arguments may sound convincing, all coins have two sides. Pre-writing preparation comes at a cost. Subconsciously, it can become as much a jailer as it liberates. Without proper caution, an outline can seize control over a piece of writing, forcing the author into a corner of limitations created by his or her own points. Not only this, but forcing oneself to create outlines creatively exhausts one. It also takes the writer a large amount of time, which, though possibly paid off eventually, seems like an eternity when engaged in the actual creation of the rough sketch. Planning even goes as far as to decide which ideas pass and which fail. This might seem like a good thing, but to a writer, especially one just beginning, having to completely scrap an idea or plot disheartens him or her immensely.
Quite cyclically, this discussion leads back to the original question, “Should one plan his or her writing endeavor ahead of time?” Truthfully, a clean-cut answer does not exist. For some, venturing into any sort of writing endeavor without initial thought results in disastrous masses of words. Others somehow both avoid outlining and produce a stellar piece of writing. Though possibly rejected by some, the real answer lies in one’s commitment to their work. Yes, outlining has risks and it bores most, but no matter how good of final product one can achieve with the absence of preparation, with a thumbnail sketch of his or her ideas, one’s writing will improve. When starting a new project, an author should not ask “To outline or not to outline?”, rather, the writer should say, “Do I care enough?”
So now you’re probably asking, “Well Michael, do you care enough?” The truth of the matter is, I’m gonna still resist outlining. XD I know you guys are probably all screaming now that I don’t care, and maybe I don’t, but sadly, except in very special cases, I’m never really going to outline. It’s the way I’m built. Outlining does not agree with me. XP Still though, hypocritically, I’m gonna recommend it to anyone who has the gumption to do it. 🙂